"With the prevalence of stigma, people with mental health issues need all the help they can get to raise their self-esteem and become confident members of the community," says writer Marja Bergen.
Oct. 2-8 is Mental Illness Awareness Week (www.camimh.ca).
With the prevalence of stigma, people with mental health issues need all the help they can get to raise their self-esteem and become confident members of the community.
Yet often they’re held back by the very people who want to help them.
For the most part, these helpers are good people who consider themselves accepting and caring. But sometimes, without being aware of it, they look down on the people they’re trying to help.
It’s only natural to do so. One gives care and the other receives. It is an unequal relationship. One ends up being in a superior position while the other becomes inferior.
But it does not need to be so. In a healthy relationship, it’s possible to help develop a sense of equal self worth in those who do not possess it.
What does it mean for a person to have low self worth? They don’t feel good about themselves in a way that affects everything in their day-to-day life. It determines whether they find satisfaction. It affects how meaningful their life becomes. It can even mean they might not go for medical help when they need it.
Can we help them learn they have value in the same way others have value?
We’re all human beings, and we all deserve to be looked on as individuals of equal worth. Whether we’re healthy or whether we have mental health problems, we all have needs.
- We want to be loved and accepted.
- We have thoughts and ideas we’d like to talk about with others who have thoughts and ideas.
- We get lonely, needing the company of friends.
- We have a need to be believed when we have something to say.
- We can be hurt and feel physical and emotional pain.
There are many other needs we have in common.
As we help individuals with mental health issues, can we help them go beyond basic survival, growing in confidence instead? I believe there is hope for many.
Effective helping means learning to avoid these common mistakes.
You may find yourself doing things that those you support could do themselves. Or you might spoil them with too much attention.
Before you know it, they start relying on you, leaning on you, even clinging. You will start feeling smothered and want out of the relationship. It’s a situation neither of you want.
Instead, introduce them to others who could become friends. Let them know that you too have needs.
When you need time away from the person you support, be honest with them. Explain to them when boundaries need to be created. Try to involve them in the process rather than doing this on your own.
When you include them in making such decisions, they will realize that they can have a part in keeping the relationship healthy. You will be making them feel like an equal.
When we help the people we support overcome their lack of self-esteem, they will learn to face their world with confidence, knowing that they belong and have a place there. They will find the resources they need within themselves to be well and stay well. They will stop thinking of themselves as victims of illness, but start seeing themselves as survivors with a future.
A feeling of self worth will lead to confidence. Confidence will lead to more confidence. And more confidence will grow into a courageous human being.
Marja Bergen lives with bipolar disorder and has supported many of her peers through her biweekly writings, published at MarjaBergen.com. Her website also offers her five books on churches and mental health including The Living Room Story: Pioneering Mental Health Awareness in the Church (2021). She has also published devotional books, and her newest is Justice for All (2022), which recounts the achievements of 12 inspirational Christians such as William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. Bergen lives in British Columbia.